Home Business ethics A lesson from Yahoo’s ex-CEO: Why “embellishing” your resume–or any faking–is not a good idea

A lesson from Yahoo’s ex-CEO: Why “embellishing” your resume–or any faking–is not a good idea

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Scott Thompson, CEO of Yahoo Inc. just since January, resigned this week when it was found out that his resume falsely stated that he holds a degree in computer science.  What motivates people to “embellish” their resume? Presumably it is the desire to impress potential employers in order to get a job (although including a fake degree in his CV was hardly necessary for Scott Thompson to be hired by Yahoo). Not everyone gets caught for lying in their resume like Mr. Thompson did, but it is still not a good idea. Why?

The answer is simple: faking is futile. We need many values to survive and flourish: a job, food, money (to buy other values), etc.—but none of them can be gained by faking reality. You might get hired based on a lie, but you cannot fake a skill or qualification forever; the truth will eventually come out, like in the case of Scott Thompson, and you will lose your job, and worse, your reputation. You can also pretend that the food you eat is nutritious when it is not, but that does not change the facts and the poor health outcomes. Or, you can fake when it comes to money and pretend that your bank account has sufficient funds to cover your spending when it does not. Faking does not change the actual facts and therefore it is futile in pursuing values.

If losing your job and your reputation were not enough, there is even more fundamental negative consequence of faking reality in order to gain something, whether lying in your resume or resorting to any other kind of falsehood. That negative consequence is the effect of faking on your own mind—on which you depend for survival. If you manage to get away with faking and fool others and yourself for a while, you are likely to conclude that it actually works. This is a hazardous conclusion that will encourage you to fake even more, ultimately creating too many contradictory lies to keep track of. Eventually you will slip, someone discovers a contradiction, and you will lose your job, a friendship, your reputation, or your business and even your freedom, like Bernie Madoff did.

Recognizing reality and adhering to facts is the only way we can achieve our values in the long term, whether a prosperous business or a successful career. That is the fundamental reason why we must reject any temptation to fake, whether in our minds or in interacting with others.

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Jaana Woiceshyn teaches business ethics and competitive strategy at the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, Canada. She has lectured and conducted seminars on business ethics to undergraduate, MBA and Executive MBA students, and to various corporate audiences for over 20 years both in Canada and abroad. Before earning her Ph.D. from the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, she helped turn around a small business in Finland and worked for a consulting firm in Canada. Jaana’s research on technological change and innovation, value creation by business, executive decision-making, and business ethics has been published in various academic and professional journals and books. “How to Be Profitable and Moral” is her first solo-authored book.

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